The official season for critically endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna is just halfway through—strange, that there's a season for a critically endangered species at all—and Spain and France have already reached their quotas, banning further fishing using purse seine nets as a result. Fishing using traps, hooks, and spears can continue, Reuters reports.
"The purse seine quota allocated to both countries was exhausted yesterday... and both member states have decided to call back their vessels to port," the European Union's executive, the European Commission, said in a statement. The nine French and six Spanish purse seine vessels were involved in joint operations, which meant their quotas were filled more quickly, the Commission said.
The early closing of the season comes as WWF reports:
Two large non-Mediterranean fleets have been spotted in some of the main Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishing grounds over the last two weeks. Such a presence in the middle of the fishing season has caused WWF to raise serious concerns that some boats might be operating in contravention of international bluefin tuna conservation rules. The substantial presence of irregular foreign vessels in the Mediterranean, added to an evident decrease in the control zeal of nations involved in this fishery, is a reminder of the situation observed in the early nineties.
One of the fleets consists of at least 13 Chinese ships (none of which is authorized to fish for bluefin), with the other comprised of at least 8 ships of unknown registry.
The Chinese fleet entered the Mediterranean via the Suez canal, leaving the region via the Straights of Gibraltar on May 26, reportedly heading to Mauritania.
The second fleet has refused to respond to attempts to communicate. It has made repeated visits to one of the main bluefin tuna fishing areas off Spain, as well as to areas off western Algeria.
Though critically endangered, stocks have decline 80% in the past three decades, the high prices paid for bluefin tuna in the Japanese market mean that quota levels are continually not set low enough to allow the fish to recover, as well meaning that there is extensive illegal fishing going on. Single fish can sell for over $100,000—record auction prices for bluefin top $700,000.